Eric Rondepierre, “Couple, Passant” (1996-98)
‘Cinema was born in 1895. In 2015, the original device has disappeared – such is the world, techniques vanish and others emerge: “There is no doubt that death is the youth of the world” [said Georges Bataille, in L’Histoire de l’érotisme]. I initiated my cinematic research at a transitional moment, in 1990, and started to present it in 1992. In 1993 in Washington (USA), I started a series of photographs figuring photograms of films corroded by the passing of time and storage condition, which was exhibited in New York two years later at MoMA. Since then, I have been watching films in Western film libraries and private collections, harvesting “decomposed” images affected by the passing of time. Without retouching them, I select the improbable and rare ones, those on which the marks of time enter in dialogue with the image to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the actual image and its destruction process. Jean Cocteau claimed that cinema filmed “death at work”. It seemed interesting to identify death at work at the core of the medium, within the material and invisible layer allowing us access to the film: the reel. So I ventured through cinema, with great patience – it takes fifteen days, eight hours a day, to watch a feature film frame-by-frame –, reflecting upon the instability of film archives, their support, the conditions of their appearance and disappearance (I was far from imagining that the proper reel could vanish!). I fancy the idea that figures and locations filmed a century ago resurface differently at other times and that I was able to capture this hazardous encounter with the ills affecting the medium. Furthemore, the fact that these images exhale beauty, strangeness and intensity is a nice complement: grace befalls anywhere.’
– Eric Rondepierre, The Mark of Time.
That impossible photogram, as Roland Barthes said. An object which is not (even) an object, but at the same time is actually two objects. It doesn’t (really) belong to the cinema or (simply) to photography ; it is more than a photograph yet less than a film. It is, therefore, a sort of axis or fold, the precise crossing point (punctum) between cinema and photography. Eminently paradoxical, the photogram is the touchstone of Eric Rondepierre’s work which is acutely conscious of the delicate balance on the razor’s edge where cinema meets photography in their most intimate specificity.
Eric Rondepierre’s work always starts with a film, or more precisely with the image-matter of a film. Rondepierre is not interested in cinema as the reflection-projection of a film on a screen, in a consumer relation to what is watchable, with its imposed length and speed, uninterrupted flow, impression of movement, perceptive fiction, transitory illusion – in other words the magic of the large cinema-body on the screen. What interests him is the film as actual film strip, a material sequence of fixed images intimately and appropriatively related to its object. Film images that you can not only see but also touch, hold, manipulate and collect.
In other words, Rondepierre aims at what is most authentically photographic at the very heart of cinema. This is of course profoundly contradictory. The photogram is an impossible object : it is both film’s condition of existence and its total negation. Obviously a film consists only of photograms, yet seeing a photogram for what it is (the frozen image of a film) necessarily means not seeing the film, which can only exist fully as movement. Seeing a film flow past automatically implies not seeing photograms, nevertheless the very essence of a film since they disappear, absorbed into the projection process. Photograms are the only real images and the only invisible images in a film. This is the ontological paradox which makes photograms into cinema’s blind «spots».
Don’t believe too much in what you can see. Learn to not see what is displayed (and therefore which hides). Learn to see beyond, beside, across and beneath. Look for the spot in the image, texture in the surface, negatives in positives and latent images in the negative ground. Follow once more the route mapped out by the psychic photographic apparatus, shifting from eye to memory, from appearance to unrepresentable. Dig down through the layers and levels like an archaeologist. Photographs are only surfaces, they have no depth, only a fantastic density. Behind it, beneath it or around it, one photo always hides (at least) another photograph, or a film. It is a question of screens, and here you enter in a singular universe, the one of an individual by the name of Eric Rondepierre.
Read this whole essay by Philippe Dubois, and visit Eric Rondepierre’s website. And, if you can read French, there’s a piece which discusses Georges Bataille’s influence on the artist here.